It's clear that WWE wants Big E Langston to reside on the mountaintop, but the company can't have him skipping steps as he makes that trek.
Pushing Langston too far, too fast will send him tumbling downward rather than create another top-level star. Fans must be invested in him before he earns his biggest triumphs, and the powerhouse has to have time to grow accustomed to the heat of the spotlight.
Monday's Raw continued a recent pattern of highlighting the explosive, young star.
Langston teamed with CM Punk and John Cena to face The Shield in the main event of the night. He was the salivating beast on the apron for much of the match.
When he finally tagged in, he was dominant, knocking the members of The Shield around like bowling pins.
He had Dean Ambrose beaten with a Big Ending, but The Shield refused to let the referee's hand hit the mat for a third time. After the bell rang, the post-match brawl had Langston and his allies shove The Shield aside, celebrating in the ring with their arms raised.
That followed the Dec. 20 SmackDown in which he forced The Shield to stand down. Punk and Cena had just faced "The Hounds of Justice" in a handicap match. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Ambrose ignored the bell and stomped on both men.
They were like jackals snapping at a fallen beast.
A one-man cavalry, Langston came charging in at that point. He bowled over Reigns, Rollins and Ambrose, emptying the ring in short time.
The ending of the two shows are near mirror images. Add those images to Langston's recent win streak, a run that has seen him defeat Jack Swagger and dispose of Damien Sandow at TLC. WWE is making it clear that it sees big things in the IC champ's future.
Langston has top-level potential, especially if his personalty is allowed to come out. The company must refer to the cautionary tales from its own history when telling Langston's story, though.
The Fall of Ryback
Ryback's story must not mirror Langston's narrative.
Cena's injury forced WWE's hand at Hell in a Cell 2012. Punk needed a worthy challenger for the pay-per-view, and the company decided to go with Ryback.
It was too soon, though.
Ryback had been slowly climbing up WWE's tiers. Moving him from dominating The Miz to fighting for the WWE Championship required some chapters of his story to be left out.
He was never a legitimate threat to Punk's title. Fans were just beginning to get to know him. WWE didn't know what it had in Ryback. Was he the next Ultimate Warrior or a flop waiting to happen?
The company didn't let him win that much, and he hasn't won many pay-per-view bouts since. Punk defeated him at Survivor Series, Cena bested him at Payback and Mark Henry beat him at WrestleMania.
Since WWE had placed him into matches it wasn't comfortable letting him win, his win-loss record leaned heavily one way. He piled on losses and lost credibility with the audience.
He was no longer the human wrecking ball tearing through the opposition; he was a muscular man who couldn't find a way to string together wins.
Langston is in that wrecking ball stage as we speak. Push him up too fast to the top like Ryback and he'll soon be failing to win, his perception weakening with every loss. The company should have him instead defend the Intercontinental Championship against increasingly impressive foes.
That title can be his launching pad, but only if Langston shows he can dominate the midcard to the point where the audience expects him to take the next step.
This is what Ryback's career skipped. He held no championships at all before going after the ultimate prize. WWE didn't seem sure if he could handle a role as world champ, and the audience wasn't convinced either.
The IC belt allows the company's confidence and the belief and support from the audience to grow. However, even that route can sometimes be rushed.
Swagger held the ECW Championship before he snatched Chris Jericho's World Heavyweight Championship away. The natural progression had the right steps, but they were hurried.
His victory over Jericho felt hollow.
It happened just two years after his debut. Fans hadn't known Swagger long enough to care about him.
That's a big part of why his title run is so forgettable. The company had him drop the belt just over two months after his victory.
Fans already have their favorites when a rookie enters the fray. It often takes years for that wrestler to slide their way into the audience's heart. That just didn't happen with Swagger, and he soon went backward.
He slid from the main event down to a point where he earned sporadic spots at midcard belts. In the second half of 2012, he went on a lengthy losing streak that saw him fall to the likes of Santino Marella.
It took pairing him with Zeb Colter, a repackaged gimmick and new entrance music to get him some traction again.
WWE hurried Swagger's rise and now has to erase memories of his past ineptitude and clear away images of him losing to Santino. Many fans are certainly behind Langston, but a patient approach is wise.
The Rhodes Way
Cody Rhodes continues to inch toward the finish line. WWE could have catapulted him forward a long time ago, but who knows what the fans' reaction would have been had he won a world title a few years back.
Instead, Rhodes went on a lengthy run with the Intercontinental Championship, had a feud over the Money in the Bank contract after looking like the most dominant performer in that match and then was asked to be the centerpiece of a thrilling storyline.
The angle of Triple H firing Rhodes has shown fans that the rising star is capable of thriving in the main event.
He was offered a match with the spotlight pointed at him—a match against Randy Orton to save his career. He nailed it. WWE gave him a chance to have the promo of his career when he spoke out against being fired.
Again, Rhodes nailed it.
When he returned to the company, he was a more valuable commodity. He's been a big part of the latest renaissance in tag team wrestling. WWE now knows it can let him take the final steps to the main event scene.
Fans have grown to respect him. He's delivered several times over.
That's what WWE must do with Langston. He's looked impressive but hasn't had a feud that has seen him showcase his depth. For Rhodes, that was his work against Rey Mysterio.
Langston hasn't had that signature match or signature moment that Rhodes had this year.
It's too early for either, though. Let him clean house where he stands, engaging the audience, before he climbs up to the next tier.
WWE would much rather end up with the kind of star that Rhodes has become than have to find ways to salvage his career the way it had to with Ryback and Swagger. Even a charging steam engine like Langston needs to be paced.
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